Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Should I upgrade my Windows Me machine to Windows XP or Vista?

When I fist purchased my PC it came with Windows 98. In taking it to a shop
for repair the tech installed Windows Millennium. My question is that I wish to
update my programs but do not know if I should choose Windows XP or Vista. As
always money is a issue; would I be able to get a better deal choosing XP.

I’d guess that XP will be a better deal, but I’m also guessing that you have
a much more significant roadblock ahead of you. Something that to correct will be
a lot more expensive than the cost of the operating system.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

If your machine came with Windows 98 originally that would indicate you
probably got it before or in the year 2000. In technological terms, that’s a
fairly old machine.

It simply might not be able to run either Windows XP or Vista.

Let’s look at the system requirements for Windows XP Home:

“I almost always double the published minimum RAM and
CPU requirements and consider that a more practical minimum for a usable
system.”
  • 233 megahertz or better CPU

  • 128 megabytes of RAM or more

  • 1.5 gigabytes of hard disk space.

  • 800 × 600 or higher resolution video

  • CD-ROM or DVD drive

Windows Vista has higher demands:

  • 1 gigahertz or better CPU

  • 512 megabytes of RAM or more

  • 20 gigabyte hard drive with at least 15 gigabytes of free space

  • Video hardware that supports DirectX 9 and has at least 32 megabytes of
    graphics memory

  • DVD-ROM drive

The problem is actually worse than this. My opinion has always been that
“minimum system requirements” are just that: the bare minimum required to get
the operating system to run. Sort of. As soon as you try to actually
do anything, then the minimum requirements are in reality nowhere near
enough. Things may “work”, but they won’t work well.

I almost always double the published minimum RAM and CPU requirements and
consider that a more practical minimum for a usable system.

For Windows XP, my guess is if you run into trouble meeting the
requirements then it’d be with either CPU or RAM or both. For Windows Vista, it’s
quite easy not to meet any of the requirements with a machine as old as
yours.

So, what if your machine doesn’t meet the minimum requirements, practical or
otherwise?

You have two options:

Upgrade your hardware. You might be able to get a new
motherboard with a faster CPU and more RAM. Or you might just upgrade your RAM
alone if your motherboard supports enough when maxed out. For Vista perhaps
you can add a new video card, DVD player, and a larger hard disk as well.

Buy a new machine. In all honesty, this is almost always
the preferred approach if you can pull it off. Particularly if you want Vista,
you could end up upgrading your machine piece by piece and end up pretty close
to having a new machine. If that’s going to happen, then you might as well just
get a new one.

Ultimately the options for an older machine are fairly limited. You can try
upgrading to XP or Vista without any of the hardware upgrades, but based on the
age of your machine I’m guessing you won’t be happy with the result.

If it’s at all an option for you, various Linux distributions will run just
fine on your older machine, though you’ll need to make sure that the software
you need to do whatever you use your computer for is available and
compatible.

But outside of those options I really think you’re looking at a new
machine.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

4 comments on “Should I upgrade my Windows Me machine to Windows XP or Vista?”

  1. You forgot option 3… Linux. Linux runs great on older hardware. But, your comments on the hardware are on the mark. My phone has a faster processor, more RAM, and (with a $40 SD card) more drive space than the computer I bought in 1998.

    Yes, if you want to cheap out, you can add another year or two to your machine’s life by replacing Windows with Linux. But if you can get a phone that blows your PC out of the water, it’s time to get a new machine.

    Reply
  2. I tried to upgade my windows me to xp, & yor are right, it didn’t want to work But I put it on my laptop that had windows 98 & it upgraded fine. I bought the full version of xp & it installed fine on windows me.

    Reply
  3. I can’t thank you enough, Leo! I”m computer illiterate and bought a used (2002) compaq presario with Millinium Edition on it. Want to get with it—computers. Now I know where I stand and my options.-Ron

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.